Your dog or cat’s sense of hearing is far more sensitive than yours, so he can be stressed by sounds you may not even be aware of. Find out how to create a more soothing soundscape for him in your home.

It’s New Year’s Eve and the fireworks are starting. Your dog or cat trembles, lowers his tail, and runs off to a safe place such as his crate or under the bed. Loud noises like fireworks and thunder are scary for a lot of animals, and even to some people, especially children. But what about the sounds we humans don’t hear, but are coming through loud and clear for your dog or cat? These noises can also disturb our animal companions. Let’s look at where these sounds come from, and what you can do to help your dog or cat if they’re causing him stress.

Consider frequency as well as volume

“When we talk about sound perception, we need to be conscious of volume, of course, but we also need to understand sound frequency or hertz (Hz),” says veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward. “The upper threshold
for human hearing is 20,000 Hz, but our dogs can hear sounds with frequencies as high as 45,000 Hz.”

About 15 years ago, Dr. Ward noticed that some dogs and cats suffered from anxiety that he thought might be connected to noise pollution in the home. “Early LED lights and flatscreen televisions, for example, emitted high-frequency sounds on startup,” he explains. “Suddenly, there was this whole new range of sounds in the home that our animals experienced, but we did not. When people flipped a light switch, their dogs might look around and growl. These dogs were hearing an ultrasonic burst of frequency that we were completely unaware of.”

Tip: Fluorescent lights, motion detectors, and laptops are other common household items that make noises your dog or cat can hear and react to.

Focus on the soundscape

“When creating a safe and comfortable environment for our animals, we usually think of soft beds and cozy blankets,” says Dr. Ward. “But we also need to focus on the soundscape.” Minimizing the effects of electronic noise on your dog or cat is simpler than you might think:

1. Turn off devices when you’re not using them.

2. Change alerts to more soothing sounds.

3. Create a safe soundscape room or area where your dog or cat can get away from household noises into a quiet and soothing environment.

4. When playing music, keep the volume down and choose tunes that are calming to your animal. More on this below!

Tip: Your animal’s soundscape room should be free of TVs, routers, fluorescent lights, and other devices or appliances.

Music to your animal’s ears

Former concert musician and sound behaviorist, Janet Marlow, has studied the connection between sound frequency and stress in animals for more than 25 years. “As a recording artist, I’d practice my music and notice that my dogs and cats would come to my side,” she says. “Certain tones would soothe them, release muscle tension, and totally relax them. It was very profound.”

As Janet began researching the phenomenon, she found that frequency and tone were key. “It isn’t about just creating a pleasing melody,” she says. “I looked into every note, and then altered the frequency content of that note to fit the comfort range of the animal. The results were amazing.”

Janet’s research is supported by science. In a small pilot study completed in 2014, an Italian research team found that, in humans, high-frequency sounds increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels, while lower frequencies reduced them. The researchers used simple sound waves without melodies to support their theory: that the physical properties of sound cause a physiological response, as opposed to the cognitive appreciation of any particular piece of music. Although the study involved human subjects, Janet’s research shows a similar response in animals.

She has found that dogs in particular experience three states of being:

• The first is a balanced state in which the dog is comfortable and at peace with his body and environment. This is the state dogs should spend most of their time in for optimum health benefits.

• The second is an environmentally stressed state, which we’d find in a noisy setting.

• The third is the acute stressed state in which the dog’s fight or flight response has been triggered.

Janet’s music for animals allows dogs and cats to experience the first, balanced state. “Creating the right sonic environment for our pets…allows them to experience that balanced state,” she says. Once they experience this state, they are more likely to return to it even in times of stress.

Tip: It’s similar to the long-term benefits we feel after practicing yoga or meditating. In times of stress, these practices help us find a calmer emotional state.

So, what types of music do animals love? “I noticed that certain sounds and tones appealed to dogs; violins, harps, soft guitars, and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ style choruses are at the top of the list. Think of yourself drifting on a boat down a river. Those were the soothing tones I used.”

Given all the electronic devices and appliances that fill our homes these days, it’s important to understand that our dogs and cats can hear and be stressed by the sounds these things make — sounds we don’t even notice. You can create a more calming soundscape for your animal by providing him with his own quiet place, a soft bed away from household noise, particularly those high-frequency electronic sounds. Changing alerts and ringtones to something less strident, and playing calming music in the home will help him achieve a more balanced state that will alleviate stress.

…HIGH-FREQUENCY SOUNDS INCREASED CORTISOL (STRESS HORMONE) LEVELS, WHILE LOWER FREQUENCIES REDUCED THEM.